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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blog Summit: Opening Remarks, as prepared

by folkbum

I have no idea if I will even say any of this [UPDATE: As it happens, I did not read this], and I'm hoping to be able to riff a little off of what others say before we get to my panel. But here's what I'm thinking about in terms of "The Future of Blogging in Wisconsin":
Anyone who has watched my track record for predictions, particularly in elections, knows that I am perhaps the least qualified person to speak on the future of anything.

But I suppose I do know a little about blogging, having seen it evolve over the last four years, and I see many potentially wonderful opportunities, but, more than that, I have a number of strong concerns.

On the plus side, I see increased reliance on blogs for both the media and the public. As older media keep trying to find ways to stay—well, relevant isn’t the right word, but something like it, whatever the opposite of obsolete is—they will rely more and more on involving the public in journalism of all sorts. You see it in the way, for example, more and more news organizations are relying on cell-phone video. The same is happening with blogging as content: JournalCorp’s “MyCommunity NOW” depends on citizen bloggers, OnMilwaukee’s got citizen bloggers, the Madison papers host citizen blogs—it’s no longer an unusual thing to find citizen voices populating corporate news entities.

And as the media increasingly promote bloggers, both through their own addition of bloggers and through their reporting on “what the blogs did today,” the public will continue to find more and more citizen bloggers and return day after day for independent content.

I also see a greater reliance on cooperation among political blogs, particularly on the liberal side, where group blogs and other avenues for collaboration and distributed responsibility have led to tremendous results, particularly on the national level. Perhaps because they have seen the results that a sustained, distributed campaign cn generate, politicians, too, are coming to rely on blogs both as springboards for new ideas and new opportunities to share their message with the people.

But, as every coin has two sides, all of these things hold dangers: The appropriation of bloggers by the media—as well as the intrusion into the blogosphere by traditional media figures—risks completely changing, if not outright destroying, the unique and vibrant culture that existed back when we were all amateurs. When the top political bloggers in the state are also paid—not just given space—by traditional media, there is a real possibility that the popularity and influence of the total amateur will again sink back to nothing, and those of us who started blogging because we didn’t hear voices like ours in the media will be back to square one.

And don’t even get me started on other kinds of “professionals” poking their way into the blogs!

But the risk of that kind of thing happening, I think, is kind of small. I’m much more concerned about a couple of other things, things that I already see happening, things that can basically be traced to what you might call groupthink—an all-to-easy-to-achieve result among blogs and bloggers. I’ll give two examples:

Almost immediately after the Virginia Tech shootings last week, speculation rocketed across the blogs about the ethic or religious identity of the shooter. There was—and, oddly, remains—speculation that he was Muslim, because, well, aren’t all terrorists Muslim (and, indeed, among some bloggers, there’s a belief that all Muslims are terrorists. One Wisconsin blogger this week, after it became clear the shooter was not Muslim, said, well, he’s just like a jihadist, anyway. That post was linked approvingly by others.

A second example: Last fall, the Republican party of Wisconsin leaked a Democratic campaign strategy memo, along with the lie that it had been found in a copier, to Wisconsin bloggers. They did this because they knew that the bloggers would produce exactly the response they were looking for and, though the contents of the memo itself were a non-story to anyone who knows how campaigns work, the resulting furor among the bloggers was a story. The party used—used—the bloggers to create a media event.

As citizen bloggers, I think this is where the danger lies: It becomes too easy to isolate ourselves from opposing viewpoints; to propagate lies, slanders, and hatreds; and to be duped into parroting a party line by those willing to exploit us.

A blog is a tool, and a pretty blunt one at that. Blogs don’t vote. Blogs don’t change all that many people’s minds. Someday, that might change, and that would be a good thing. But before that, we citizen bloggers need to be alert for the kinds of problems that will stifle our ability to grow into a positive force for good before we even get the chance.

And here are my questions for you:
  • What do you see as the future of blogging?
  • Does the entry of traditional media (or politicians, or X other entity) into the realm of blogging change the landscape significantly?
  • How can--or should--blogging be used in future campaigns, in legislative discussions, or in politics more generally?
  • How has your own blogging changed since you started, and where do you see it going?

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